Staying ahead of the fantasy saves market | Week 24

Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Archie Bradley (25) throws against the Chicago White Sox during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

With the fantasy season winding down, paying attention to how relievers finish the season can provide a glimpse of the year ahead. Fernando Rodney is not getting any younger and has performed much better than any fantasy owner or the Diamondbacks ever could hope for. However, he will turn 41 next March and there’s no guarantee Arizona will bring him back. After a rough outing on Saturday during which Rodney recorded only one out, he allowed four runs (three earned) and four hits in six total batters faced, resulting in his sixth blown save.

Archie Bradley notched his first save on Sunday with Rodney getting the day off. Although there’s no imminent change at closer for this year, this save chance could provide a sneak preview of things to come for the Diamondbacks next year. Bradley recorded 22 holds this year with a 1.23 ERA, 2.36 FIP and 0.95 WHIP. He has also struck out 74 hitters in 66 innings of work against 18 walks.

One of the founding fathers of fantasy baseball, Ron Shandler, suggests drafting skills over role. Even if Arizona brings back Rodney next year, taking a flier on Bradley makes sense in 2018. Bradley’s 48.5 ground-ball percentage and 21.7 strikeout minus walk rate both compare favorably to Rodney, suggesting the young reliever is ready to ascend to the ninth inning. It’s never too early to plan for the year ahead — close attention will be paid to see how the Diamondbacks use Bradley in the playoffs.

  • Nicasio’s rapid climb in St. Louis

When the Pirates released Juan Nicasio, they hoped he wouldn’t land on a contender. Philadelphia claimed Nicasio — reinforcing Pittsburgh reading the market correctly — but they did not anticipate a team adding him for the stretch run. Saying the Cardinals’ bullpen needed stability proves to be an understatement. Trading for Nicasio will not benefit them if they qualify for the postseason, but in the short term, it’s already paying dividends.

Nicasio has made two appearances with St. Louis, both resulting in a save, doubling his total for this year. His 2.69 ERA, 2.93 FIP and 1.07 WHIP make him the top pitcher in a volatile situation. It also means if Nicasio is sitting on the waiver wire, he makes an interesting target for teams needing every save they can garner down the stretch. There will be some blowups, but Nicasio could save three to five more games before the end of the season, well worth the risk.

  • Situations in flux

Part of the appeal of adding Nicasio lies in usage patterns. Nicasio getting both save chances with St. Louis makes it easier to figure out, unlike the ninth inning with the Angels. Last week at this time, it seemed Blake Parker would take the job and run with it, recording three straight saves. He then blew his next save and has not worked the ninth inning since. Rookie Eduardo Paredes and Yusmeiro Petit own the last two saves for the Angels. Trying to predict who gets the next opportunity proves to be very frustrating. Due to the machinations of Mike Sciosicia, only the most desperate for saves should add an arm from this bullpen. If under duress to add one, it would be Petit for the last two weeks.

Just when it seemed the Marlins trusted Brad Ziegler, he blew back-to-back saves and reports emerged his back is ailing. This hurts a team which needed a veteran presence in the ninth inning. Many fantasy owners pined for Kyle Barraclough to get a chance as the closer of the future, but his high walk percentage (13.4 percent this year) harpoons his upside in high leverage. Miami tried Jarlin Garcia on Sunday to no avail. Owners of Ziegler can hold on to him, but taking a chance on another arm in this bullpen does not seem viable to teams in semifinals of head-to-head leagues or in rotisserie formats.

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 07: Miami Marlins Pitcher Brad Ziegler (29) delivers the ball during the game between the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs on June 7, 2017 at Wrigley Field located in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire)

There’s something wrong with Kelvin Herrera. His owners can ditch him in redraft leagues. Brandon Maurer underwhelmed in the ninth inning for San Diego as a closer and in his last few outings for the Royals as well. Some like to pivot to Mike Minor, who has pitched well of late, but his ability to work more than one inning constrains his rise to the closer role. Scott Alexander has worked 16 straight scoreless outings, but all three of his saves this year required recording one out. He has basically entered dirty situations to clean them up, but not been the primary target for the ninth inning. Like the two teams above, owners can add Maurer or Alexander, but can’t plan on much volume.

  • Toronto’s tough decision

Presently, Roberto Osuna is on paternity leave, but when he returns, he should finish the season as the Blue Jays’ closer. He leads the majors with 10 blown saves. Osuna has battled anxiety this season and what is perceived to be a regression in performance. Looking under the surface statistics, Osuna’s 3.66 ERA accompanies a 1.84 FIP. His team’s defense seems to be letting him down some. Another reason his ERA is inflated: a 59.5 strand rate. The league average sits almost 12 points higher. With 40 percent of the runners who reach base scoring against Osuna, it caps his ability to close out games.

A lesson in patience could lie in the season Craig Kimbrel is having this year. Last year, Kimbrel finished with a 3.40 ERA, 2.92 FIP and 1.09 WHIP. In terms of strand rate, Kimbrel’s dropped to 70.9 last year. His swinging strike percentage finished at 15.1 with a strikeout minus walk rate of 24.1 percent. This year, Kimbrel is in the midst of a career season.

How about Osuna this season? He compares favorably in terms of swinging strike percentage (17.1), strikeout minus walk rate (28.6 percent), WHIP (0.93) and FIP. None of this guarantees Osuna will bounce back for a career season in 2018, but it also suggests using recency bias to avoid him in drafts if he’s still the closer could be a mistake.

Be sure to check back later this week for the waiver wire column, hitter matchups, Jim Finch’s two-start pitching primer, and Al Melchior’s Sunday stream article to maximize championship week lineups.

Statistical Credits:Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com

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